It’s Time For A Little Madness

James Bobin

Mia Wasikowska
Sacha Baron Cohen
Johnny Depp
Helena Bonham Carter

Three years have passed since Alice’s [Wasikowska] previous adventure and in that time she has been captaining her father’s ship and sailing the world. Upon her return to London she discovers that the company has been inherited by ex-suitor Hamish Ascot, who is intent on driving Alice out of the business. Feeling trapped by her predicament, Alice escapes through a mirror back into Underland, where she learns that Tarrant Hightop (the Mad Hatter once again played by Johnny Depp) is unwell. And so she sets off on her merry way to steal the chronosphere from Time himself [Baron Cohen] and set things right… sort of.

Six years ago I reviewed a rather drab, unimpressive film that somehow went on to make over one billion dollars. There were certainly praiseworthy elements but overall it was excessive style and a great deal of borrowed substance. Considering Burton’s Alice In Wonderland wasn’t exactly an adaptation of the book, highlighting how this instalment only selects piecemeal snippets is a touch moot. But rather than furthering the story of Alice’s madcap adventures, either in the real world or.. well.. her head I guess (they never really clarified in the other film if it’s a real place or if she’s just a nutbag) we are treated to a self-indulgent time travelling tale. In fact, the plot feels a bit like a video game premise from a decade or so ago. Main character is given a bit of a plot then set off on a flimsy quest that quickly spirals into multiple side-quests that turn out to be a bit pointless. Through an interesting (and I use that word cautiously) quasi-predeterminism development Alice’s actions in the past have already caused the future to unfold the way it has – maybe that’s a spoiler, I don’t care. It’s a momentary example of decent writing but from the very get-go the whole quest feels haphazardly futile and Alice’s interference is more hindrance than help, not to mention exceptionally selfish and stupid; which undermines a lot of groundwork set out earlier on. The film tries so desperately to portray Alice as a headstrong and thoroughly capable businesswoman but through her actions in Underland, proves that she really doesn’t think through any of her decisions and is chaos personified. Now that I think about it, her story in the real world was sometimes more fantastical and compelling than the dream-world sequences.

The first thing one notices is that Mia Wasikowska is the only one who’s actually trying. Everyone else’s performances (bar Baron Cohen who is genuinely amusing and a few moments by Bonham Carter) are so horribly phoned in. In fact, other than Anne Hathaway, who flitters her fingers and looks off forlornly, all the supporting characters feel like 2-3 line reappearing cameos. Which brings me back to this series’ amazing bugbear. Not only the script but the credit sequence once again focuses on the Mad Hatter as if he’s the main character, as if we give two shits about Depp’s balmy lispy, schizophrenic rendition of a rather absurd individual. I didn’t find his character exactly endearing the first time round but here he’s even more lazily clowning around, chewing on the scenery, given a major plot point about saving his family or bringing them back from the dead. I know Underland’s events are supposed to mirror Alice’s real-world frustrations and tribulations but the moral here is so heavy-handed and clumsy.

Danny Elfman’s score, which was a high point of the 2010 film is reduced to a medley of forgettable flutters interlaced with the series ‘theme.’ It’s kind of reminiscent of everything Elfman’s been doing of late; the man who usually brings so much verve and originality to his themes is, much like the acting cast, producing the bare minimum. Which really only leaves us with the visuals and while the abundance of colour is a welcome treat over Burton’s moody gothic interpretation, it still feels like actors plodding around a green screen set (because they are) highlighted even more when you see the difference between physically constructed props/sets and digitally created ones. And I don’t know what camera this was shot on but shooting in such high definition with extreme close-ups meant I could see every aspect of the over-the-top make-up which sort of takes away some of the prestige. Instead of thinking, “Wow, what a fantastically talented and unique design” I’m left muttering, “Those eyes are a bit uneven.. and could have been blended a bit better there.”

There was never a need for this sequel but when a film makes a surprise one billion dollars, of course you’re going to get another one. The disappointment is that there actually was a half decent foundation for madcap hijinks and hilarity and instead we got a rather half-arsed cash-in. As I’ve said time and again, for something different and powerful, we need a horribly dark adaptation of American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns.

Release Date:
27th May 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
Once again the film tries to impress upon the audience that Alice is living in a backward unfair patriarchy wherein every action she takes is scrutinised and every suggestion made, dismissed because of her gender. It both serves to inform people that the past was a shit to women and the present isn’t a great improvement but at least there are ways to overcome it without surrendering who you are. The way these sequences are shot, lit and directed feel distanced from both the Underland madness and even Burton’s previous version of real-life and gave me pause for hope that this film could actually be half decent. I was wrong and they were incredibly short-lived.

Notable Characters:
As stated above, the acting is pretty dismal. Except for Sacha Baron Cohen as the physical manifestation of Time. Baron Cohen has proven time and again that he can give the base common performance but also through things like Hugo and Sweeney Todd that he has superb range and ability. Alice is such a ditzy character that she’s rather humourless meaning a lot of the intended humour is supposed to stem from the predicaments she finds herself in and the eccentric people of Underland. The only one who manages to achieve that is Time, who is a great combination of a ridiculous silent film villain and Saturday cartoon adversary (the kind who the lead kid messes with despite the fact he’s not at all villainous and is just performing a vital task; like a teacher or janitor).

Highlighted Quote:
“Everyone parts with everything eventually, my dear”

In A Few Words:
“Everyone and everything is incredibly mediocre in this high budget non-event”

Total Score: